Preventing Falls from Height - Myth Busters
Myth: This project is about introducing new regulations or rules for the construction sector
The project tells those working at height how they can comply with existing law.
There is no new law or regulation. The project aims to reduce the number of workplace injuries and deaths in the construction sector. See the project Position Paper for more information.
The Ministry’s Best Practice Guidelines for Working at Height and for Working on Roofs provide best practice guidance on how to comply with the requirements that have always been the law under the HSE Act.
Myth: This project means I have to spend $2,500 on scaffolding for every job over 2.4 metres
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to safety.
There are numerous and flexible ways to manage height safety effectively and efficiently. The Best Practice Guidelines for Working at Height outline solutions for employers to consider when deciding how to keep people safe from a fall.
Full scaffolding of a new home build is leading practice in preventing people being injured from a fall, and it is encouraging to see an increasing number of firms adopting this solution. Importantly, some of the firms using fully scaffolded sites also report additional efficiency benefits beyond safety, such as improved access for other sub trades.
The Ministry expects to see some form of edge protection system in place when people are working on a single-storey home to isolate workers from a fall. Scaffolding is just one option to achieve this. However, there are no prescriptive requirements to select scaffold as the mandatory solution.
The costs to install safe work systems for a single-storey home to prevent falls from height range from approximately $1,000 to $2,500. These costs are based on daily hiring rates. Equally, an edge protection system can be currently bought for about $8,000, meaning it would pay for itself after six to eight builds.
The key message is that you need to proactively manage height hazards. Doing nothing is not an option.
Myth: Government is saying I have to spend thousands on a five-minute job – this is safety gone mad
You can injure yourself just as easily on a five-minute job as on a long-term one. You can injure yourself just as easily falling from a two-step ladder as you can falling from a roof.
However, effective safety controls for a five-minute job will be different from a five-day job. The longer someone is exposed to the risk of falling, the more the Ministry expects an employer or principal to do to manage the hazard.
The Best Practice Guidelines for Working at Height include various options to manage short duration work. The main expectation is that you are actively thinking about how to do any work at height safely.
Just because it’s a short job doesn’t mean you can do nothing – that is not an option.
Myth: Low-level falls don't hurt people
Falling from a ladder or off the top plate can be just as dangerous as falling from higher levels – our statistics show that more than half the serious harm notifications to the Ministry regarding a fall from height in the construction sector were from less than three metres.
The Ministry has successfully prosecuted businesses for failing to use the appropriate control to manage height hazards from under three metres. Two such cases are:
- DOL vs. Glen Rayner Hassett and Apex Construction Ltd
- DOL vs. Alliance Group Limited
Myth: Some construction jobs are just dangerous – like fitting purlins
Actively considering how you could remove or minimise the risk in any working at height situation is the key to ensuring you and your workers are protected from a fall. Doing nothing is not an option.
Think laterally - there are some building firms out there right now using new solutions, such as bean bags and temporary work platforms for work on the “top plate”.
So safer practice is possible, it just requires you to think about it.
Myth: These “new rules” will price me out of market
Losing your livelihood through a fall from height injury doesn’t price you out of the market – it can take you out completely. Losing a productive worker costs you more than providing a safe environment.
The fine for failure to meet the guidelines for safe work will be considerably more than an investment in safe working methods. The average penalty imposed by the Courts over the last four years for breaches under workplace health and safety legislation is $30,000, with the maximum potential fine being $250,000.
There are already a large number of firms who have invested in the safety of their workers and contractors. These firms deserve a level playing field. Furthermore, clients and principals have duties to prevent harm also. The Principals’ Guide to Contracting sets out a broad process for building health and safety into contract management.
The Ministry is also actively working through local councils to include information with building consents, making clear the requirements for working safely at height. The Ministry will be working up the supply chain where we find inadequate safety steps in place – and this will include taking action against the client where appropriate.
Myth: It's easier for the commercial sector – they've got more money
The effects of a fall are the same regardless of what sector it occurs in. Workers in the residential construction sector have the same right to safety as their counterparts on a commercial building site. The Ministry does not accept that the residential sector should be afforded lower safety standards.
Many smaller residential firms are already adopting safe work practices, showing smaller firms can meet the same standards – even if the steps taken vary.
The safety standards need to be the same – but the ways of getting there can and will be different. Safety is not one size fits all.
The height safety measures in the Best Practice Guidelines are consistent with the controls already in place in Australia and the United Kingdom.
Not taking the time and effort to identify the hazards and put some steps in place is unacceptable – regardless of the sector – doing nothing is not an option.
Myth: OSH has outlawed ladders
The guidelines outline the obvious – ladders are access tools – but occasionally, in the right circumstances with the right care taken, they’re appropriate for short-term work. The evidence shows that in many accidents involving ladders they were be used as a work platform, not being used correctly, or were improperly maintained.